Some positive signs for cinema screens

There seems to be some positive development for the exhibition trade, as some filmmakers are venturing to release their films at the cinema halls. Last year, due to Corona, some of the best release slots were lost. Since then, neither filmmakers nor viewers have come forward to take in a movie at a cinema hall.

Not that any film released since lockdown in cinema halls was withdrawn — albeit with restrictions — had what is called face value or promotion. The few films that managed to release were not worth one’s while even during normal situation, least of all in Corona time.

Since the cinemas reopened in September last year, films like “Khali Peeli”, “Bolo Hau”, “Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari”, “Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi”, “12 ‘O’ Clock”, “Madam Chief Minister”, “Kaagaz”, “Indoo Ki Jawani”, “Amma Ki Boli” and a few other such films released in cinema halls. They had nothing including their titles to attract interest, let alone lure the viewers to the halls.

In all, about 20 new films released theatrically since January this year but none of them was able to draw footfalls. It seemed like the cinema managements wanted to prove a point that they were back in business but they were not, really. If any consolation for these cinema owners, the similar kind of stuff was palmed off also on OTT platforms, which were not getting the required hits either.

When it comes to cinemas, the box office figures speak, which make or mar a film. On the OTT streaming, there is no definite yardstick yet. That is except the comments and views one reads on the social media.

One bright spot after a partial relaxation of lockdown on cinemas was the Yash Chopra films retrospective in September last year. The Yash Raj Films banner celebrated the 88th birth anniversary of Yash Chopra, as also 50 years of founding of the Studio. Seven Yash Raj classics were offered for free screenings at various cinema halls all across. The response, despite the Corona fears, was positive.

The other thing that kept the audience away besides the poor films on offer was the frequent fluctuations in the number of Covid-19 cases reported from states. These rise in numbers led to rumours about the imposition of another lockdown. The night curfews on movements of people only added to the reluctance to visit a cinema.

There are some films under production and there are also some major star cast films awaiting release. Many of the ready films had plans for release this summer but then thought it wise to postpone the plans. And why not? Since the vaccination drives have already started all over the country, waiting for some more time would put the confidence back in people to return to cinemas. Also, with the major population covered by vaccination, one would expect curfews and restrictions to be withdrawn.

Big-ticket films like “Sooryavanshi”, “83”, “Radhe”, “Satyamev Jayate 2”, “Bell Bottom”, “Atrangi Re” and “Jayeshbhai Jordaar”, due for release March onwards, are now looking at June release. While, one or two may set the ball rolling for the big films, a couple may also prefer the Diwali slot. Not only has the Covid-19 scare subsided yet, but also because the months of April and May will divide the audience due to IPL 14.

Meanwhile, this Covid-19 inflicted closedown may take prey of many cinema properties, single screen as well as multiplexes, before the things get to normal. Some multiplex chains have decided to close shop at various properties. A South-based multiplex chain has decided to keep just one or two properties open symbolically in metros like Mumbai and Delhi. Some others are never expected to reopen.

The plight of single screens is worse. When cinema propertiers go out of business, they lie in ruins, either trapped in liens or red tape or family disputes. The post lockdown scenario will only add to the numbers. Also, what is worse is that a number of cinema properties may close down, but that would be no solace looking at the state of the real estate markets at present!

This week finally saw the release of “Roohi”, a film with some face value, artistes like Rajkummar Rao and Varun Sharma, which has been able to cross the crore mark on its opening day with a 10th-March closing of about Rs 2.7 crore, while the second day is decent considering the T20 match between India and England. The following week will see the release of “Mumbai Saga” starring John Abraham and Emraan Hashmi along with Suniel Shetty and Prateik Babbar. The film should get a decent opening response, which would help build the confidence for not only the filmmaker and cinema owner but also the cinegoer.

Now that it has been established that a cinema house is not complete without a film, which in turns brings in the cinelovers, it is for the cinema owners to relook at the equations with the content providers and the audience.

Better incentives to both, maker and viewer, would go a long way towards making all three happy.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)